Guest Contributor, Tina Barkley

The First Mean Girls

Image: Tina Barkley Author: Tina Barkley

Image: Tina Barkley
Author: Tina Barkley


When my eldest daughter was starting grade 1 I read a book that I think was called “Life Long Learners.” I forget the title because the part of the book that stuck with me was a line from the introduction – credited as a Jewish proverb – it said: “to have a child is to forever have a part of your heart running around outside your body.” Gulp.

Anyone who’s a parent knows this is true.

With the births of our two daughters I remember suddenly being intensely aware of my own mortality. Not for selfish reasons, but worried “what if I’m not around for them.” This haunted me for about five years.

We have all known someone that’s lost their life too soon and left a family behind — I started panicking about who would love, nourish and cherish these pieces of my heart if for some horrible reason, I couldn’t?

Who would cheer from the stands? Who would cry their eyes out at graduation and be overbearing in planning the wedding? I needed to be “there”, here, when they needed me.

I’ve come down from that edge thankfully. It takes a village to raise kids and luckily I know we have a village… just as I would be there for any of my fellow villagers.

It took a while to feel comfortable enough to know this, trust it.

I’m not a helicopter parent (at least I hope I’m not!) but I am involved in my kids lives. I unapologetically love hearing the daily recaps: “what went on?” “what they played at lunch” “with who?”. The stories, the dramas, the everything.

My eldest daughter Pippa started grade 8 and last week my  husband and I were treated to a, very acclaimed, speaker presentation who is all about “raising teenage girls”. Step One: prepare for them to pull away and let them.

What? You mean this little piece of my heart that runs around outside my body is now going to pull away?

(No, really, I get it. It’s all ok with me. I get it.)

Everything has led to this – I’ve always known it was coming – now it all starts to move in another direction. It’s a weird notion…and….I’m sure I’ll get used to it, eventually.

The first test came swiftly, I’m sorry to say.  Fast forward to a little over a week ago — Pippa’s birthday — she was victim of classic “mean girls.”

It was her 13th birthday, and as all the girls do at her age, they posted Happy Birthday wishes on Instagram. Her best buddies made videos and left lovely messages, but three girls (all of whom were good enough friends to be invited to her party) posted not ugly photos – MEAN UGLY photos – of my eldest girl.

One of those mean friends had to go back years to find the photo she posted. I was aghast, angry, frustrated when I came across them that day. That little piece of my heart that is Pippa felt trampled, kicked, beaten up.

I wanted to crawl through the app and type: “really, that is the best photo you could find of your FRIEND?” It was just plain mean.

I called my husband and although he hadn’t seen it, the little part of his heart that is Pippa said: “If Pippa did that to another child I would rip her to shreds.”

Case in point.

I follow these kids and I know their parents do too. What’s up folks? What did you think when you saw the meanness in those photos? These kids have 300-500 followers. Mean. Just mean.

Mid-day I texted Pippa to say…”wow…not the most flattering photo XX kid posted of you”. She called me … and I could hear the hurt, but, she said: “Its’ ok mom, its’ supposed to be funny.”

Funny. My 13 year old was trying to make ME feel better. It made me feel even worse…

Since then, as I’ve chatted about this with a few mom friends, they’ve said “it’s true, it’s supposed to be funny”. I’m still not laughing, there’s funny and there’s funny/mean. At 13, there’s a difference.

One thing is certain: I must step back and let her handle it.

All the time and energy we’ve put in protecting these little pieces of us, it’s hard work to teach them resilience, patience and disappointment — life skills that will serve them from now on.

We always talk about kindness a lot in our family, and let me just say here our kids are far from perfect, but it’s guaranteed they know the difference between being purposefully kind vs. not.

No question they’ve felt the pain of unkindness, like Pippa did last week, and I know they learn from experiences such as these.

I also know, with 100% certainty, that piece of my heart wouldn’t want anyone else to, ever, go through – or feel – the hurt she felt.

It’s a crazy age, 13. She is breaking apart from our tight unit to find herself, and her way, yet she’s as big a piece of my heart as she ever was.

Jill is eleven. I’m holding her close while I can.  Great tonic came in the form of Jill’s first volleyball game on Tuesday. I walked into the familiar gym — was the first spectator there so for about 10 minutes — the only parent in the bleachers. She spotted me and she and her little gaggle of friends glanced over at me and giggled. There was some big time eye rolling…but I know what she really meant was “thanks for coming mom, I can always count on you.”

I’ll always be there. And they know it.

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  • Reply Jo October 3, 2016 at 9:12 am

    Lovely read. All heart.

  • Reply Jody Vance October 3, 2016 at 3:29 pm

    Thanks Jo! Tina is an absolute gem, one of the best mom’s I know. Also, thank you for subscribing. We are planting fabulous seeds in #mybackyard. I think your perspective would be great on here, just saying.

  • Reply Lisa E October 3, 2016 at 3:58 pm

    Love this!

  • Reply Caroline October 4, 2016 at 10:35 pm

    Thank you for posting this! I sit here reading it through my tears. I too have a 13 year old sweet girl. Our mean girls began 3 years ago. It had escalated to the point of having to change to an alternate high school-a 15 minute drive as opposed to the one around the corner- All for a fresh start. Our family has had many, many “REALLY?” moments, over the last year especially. I did think it took a village but sadly our village has let us down.
    Parents that we have known and befriended since preschool turned a blind eye to incidents so as to not become involved. Safer to not take a stand.

    Pink shirt day makes me sad.

    We are so proud of our daughter for her bravery. She gets up everyday and stands alone, even as the bully and her family try to keep things going through others at our “new” school.
    The only thing I have learned is that my daughter is a much much stronger woman than I.
    I know these next few years she might pull away which will be most difficult. I am conflicted by letting her explore new friends but trying to step back so she can choose “good” friends over “anyone that will include me” friends. I am just hoping that some day she will be pulled toward someone that will be a true friend.

    • Reply Tina October 5, 2016 at 1:52 pm

      Oh, geez Caroline…that is an incredible story! I can feel your pain. It really IS disappointing when adults you call friends turn blind eyes – to me that makes them complicit in these situations. I’m all for “not interfering” or “letting them work it out on their own” but there comes a time when everyone needs to understand. Your daughter is so brave. Holy cow. You tell her GOOD ON HER. She will never ever regret doing what is right for herself. Good on you mom for supporting a move of school. Sadly, bullying is everywhere and I think it’s the little “invisible” punches that girls throw that are just so damning and hurtful.

  • Reply Barb October 22, 2016 at 10:00 am

    Thank you for sharing your story. I am the mother of 3; one of which is a daughter, now 20 years old. I, too, worried about her pulling away from me and having to deal with the mean girls. I’m so proud that she didn’t take much guff – was able to use her voice and distanced herself from those that didn’t honour her as a friend. It was heart wrenching to hear the stories of what may have happened on a particular day – looking for advice or confirmation that she dealt with the issues well. One thing I’ve realized, she has a good head on her shoulders; a good sense of self.

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